The federal bureaucracy has grown dramatically in size, scope, and influence from small beginnings of about 1,000 employees in the 18th century to millions of workers in the 21st.
The career employees of all branches of the federal government are referred to as the civil service
. While they include workers in the legislative and judicial branches, the largest share work in the executive bureaucracy. A bureaucracy
is any body of workers in an organization who formulate and implement organizational policies. The executive branch bureaucracy of the U.S. government has some 2 million full-time civilian workers, a far cry from the 1,000 or so workers in the first presidential administrations of George Washington (1789–97). The U.S. Constitution did not create an executive branch bureaucracy, though it mentions the existence of "executive Departments" and the "principal Officers" that would head them. Washington established four such departments—the Departments of State, War, the Treasury, and Justice. He met regularly with the department heads and with Vice President John Adams (later the second president), establishing the presidential practice of seeking the advice of what has come to be called the presidential cabinet. Those first department heads included Thomas Jefferson as secretary of state (later the third U.S. president), Alexander Hamilton as secretary of the treasury, and Edmund Randolph as attorney general.
Over time, the cabinet grew to include more departments, reaching 15 by the 2010s. In addition, the growth of and changes to the U.S. economy resulted in calls for new forms of executive activity, including the need to regulate certain industries or economic activities. There are five different kinds of entities in the executive branch: the cabinet departments, independent agencies, regulatory agencies, government corporations, and presidential commissions. They are involved in many different areas of American life and society.